At this time of year, you’re likely busy gathering the last of the harvest and cleaning up the garden of debris and placing them in your compost. Although you may not work with your compost as much during the cold winter months, you may still want to maintain it so you can ensure you have lots of rich compost to apply to your soil in the spring. After all, a bit of work and attention now and you can be sure that you have healthy, nourishing compost that will benefit all of the plants on your property.
Balance is Key
No matter the season, it’s important to maintain a balance between carbon and nitrogen materials in your bin. What’s the ideal balance? Ideally, your compost bin will be comprised of one-third green nitrogen materials and two-thirds brown materials. Why so many carbon-rich materials? It’s to help speed up the breakdown process and reduce the nasty odors that are produced.
Green, or nitrogen-rich materials are easy to come by. Look around your kitchen and most of your garden. It includes peelings and unusable parts of fruits and vegetables and coffee grounds. It also includes grass clippings. Think fresh materials. Throughout the winter months, you sure won’t have a shortage of green materials for the compost.
Brown, or carbon-rich, materials include dried items including dried leaves, garden waste, straw, and the debris from pruning your trees, shrubs, and vines. Unless you prune during the winter, you may find these materials more difficult to come by, even if they are plentiful right now in the fall.
At this time of year, there are tons of brown materials at your disposal. Rake up your leaves once they’ve turned brown and pull any annuals and dead plant materials from the garden. Try to separate your piles near your compost bin so you can ensure you maintain the right ratio of materials. If you begin to see that you’re running low on brown materials, collect shredded paper from your office or the home to keep it going. Store items in a bag next to your compost bin so you can add some brown materials when you add your green waste from your kitchen. Also, since brown materials tend to clump, try to intersperse green materials to prevent clumping and provide a boost to the composting process.
Have a wood stove or fireplace? Use the ashes
Whether you rely on a wood-burning stove or fireplace for heat or just for cozy ambiance, you can use the ashes left over in your compost. Then, you don’t have to worry about the ashes crowding your regular waste bin.
Cold-weather Composting Tips
Put a lid on it
Although leaving the lid open on your composting bin makes it easy to build your compost, especially when your hands are full, it also makes your compost a soggy mess during the wet and cold winter months. Since water fills the open spaces, it’ll reduce the amount of air in your compost. If your bin has a lid, close it. If it’s open on top, secure a tarp over it to keep the rain from getting in and ruining the moisture balance of your compost. The bonus benefit is it keeps rodents and animals from getting into your compost. If your area gets lots of rain and heavy snow, it may be wise to build a roof over your compost.
Protect it from excess moisture
A lid, roof or tarp will protect the top of your compost, but what about the sides? Build a barrier around your bin to prevent snow and water from impacting your delicate compost. Cinder blocks or bricks may work best as they may absorb the heat of the sun. However, you can build a wooden fence around your compost as well. This will keep precipitation out, as well as curious animals and rodents.
Prepare for slow down
Just as you may not feel entirely motivated in the cold winter months, the bacteria in your compost feel the same. This is why you may notice productivity slows or grinds to a halt when temperatures drop. Or does it?
Although it seems contrary, production doesn’t stop entirely in the whole bin. Only the sides that are most impacted by the frigid temperatures. Deep inside the compost bin, bacteria and organisms are working hard to break down the materials within. So, while productivity on the outer layers of compost may slow down, it’s business as usual in the center. You may consider turning the compost periodically to keep production moving along. Check your compost periodically to ensure it’s healthy and it’s not getting soggy.
Before long, warmer temperatures will be here and you’ll be able to nourish your plants with rich, fresh compost.